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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Fort Pierce, Florida » U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory » Subtropical Plant Pathology Research » Research » Research Project #436859

Research Project: Canine Detection of Exotic and Emerging Plant Pathogens

Location: Subtropical Plant Pathology Research

Project Number: 6034-22000-045-011-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jul 1, 2019
End Date: Jun 30, 2024

Train canines to detect exotic and emerging pathogens of concern to U.S. Agriculture including Citrus Huanglongbing (HLB), Plum Pox Virus (PPV), vegetable viruses, grapevine viruses and other disease pathogens as they emerge. a. Initial training and validation of 13-15 canines originating with USDA, APHIS will be conducted in an experimental greenhouse and small field plots (grids) using both artificially inoculated and naturally infected plants. b. Trained detector dogs will be tested in commercial production fields, orchards, and vineyards. c. Trained detector dogs will be tested in commercial vegetable transplant production houses, and production nurseries.

The procedures for training, evaluating and deploying canine detector dogs for pathogen detection have been extensively detailed for other bacterial and viral pathogens. In brief, the initial training begins with a proprietary sensitization process. Canines are rewarded for alerting on the proper target by providing a few minutes of play with the handler. Dogs will be sensitized via a series of randomized (blind) diseased and non-diseased sources to ensure the canines are alerting correctly at a high degree of accuracy. Typically this is done in randomized field trials, recording environmental conditions during each trial, and re-randomizing between each validation. We plan to train multiple dogs to detect each target pathogen. Moreover, because the sensitivity and accuracy of detection across host species and cultivars may not be the same – presumably because the volatile composition or concentration may differ – advanced training will be conducted in both an experimental greenhouse, field plots, orchards and vineyards on a collection of infected and non-infected cultivars and species to ensure that the canines are responding to a broad array of host types. The initial imprinting is anticipated to take 4 months to complete. Once trained, dogs will be field-tested in commercial plantings. They will be tasked to locate infected plants within plantings of selected crops, and relative to vegetable viruses will be used to scout field perimeters to locate potential reservoir weed hosts. All “alerts” will be evaluated visually and by ELISA and/or PCR to determine the infection status of the plants. Dogs will also be deployed in transplant houses and production nurseries. Canine interrogation techniques can take advantage of this high-density to screen large numbers of transplants and nursery plants rapidly. Detection of pathogen-infected transplants and nursery plants has obvious logistic and economic advantages. By intercepting infected material before it is widely disseminated and planted, large-scale epidemics can be avoided, thereby preventing potentially enormous production losses. Culling infected transplants/nursery plants is a simple, inexpensive and rapid prevention method so long as infected plants can be detected at an early and possibly subclinical stage of infection. This practical training is anticipated to take 4-6 months to complete. Cooperator will: 1) Procure and house canines. 2) Train and validate canines. 3) Deploy and evaluate canines in commercial production settings.